The Vancouver Effect: An Examination of the Canadian Olympic Committee Olympic Selection Standards (2000-2008)

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Olympic Games, by every measure, are a massive entity. They are the largest regularly scheduled, international gathering in the world, and "have become the most celebrated event in history." (1) Politically, economically, socially and culturally, the Olympic Games have had an increasingly influential effect on our society since their modern conception over a century ago. The Games, and the Olympic Movement in general, have been experienced by millions of people from around the globe, far more than its founders could have ever imagined. (2)

Canada's involvement within the Olympic Movement has been interesting. We have hosted the Games twice, welcoming the best summer athletes from around the globe to Montreal in 1976, and their winter counterparts to Calgary in 1988. We are now gearing up to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, which in terms of podium success, promises to be a monumental event for Canadian Olympic sport. It truly is an exciting time for sport in Canada.

In contrast, only a short time ago, the Canadian sport system was in shambles. In 2002, in the face of declining international results since the 1996 Atlanta Games, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) made an ideological shift towards supporting excellence (in the form of medals) by instituting a new Olympic selection policy. Canadian athletes would only be sent to the Games if they had the chance to be in the top 12 finishers; the COC would no longer be taking "tourists" to the Games. The Athens Games came and went, with considerable controversy over the COC's new selection policy.

By the time the selection document for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was released a little less than two years later, the Top 12 Policy that had incited so much debate was nowhere to be found.

This paper outlines the events that led to the implementation of the Top 12 Policy, its subsequent removal, and the role that other concurrent events in the Canadian sport environment played as mitigating factors. It is argued that the heightening and subsequent lowering of the Olympic selection standards was part of the COC's overall evolution in the past two Olympiads, and that the events were primarily as a result of Vancouver being named host of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

In order to achieve these objectives, a review of the official COC selection documents for both the Athens Games and the Beijing Games, as well as the COC Athens Post-Games Report, was undertaken. Critical assessments of the events from various sources were also taken into account. The information gained from these sources was corroborated with the insights obtained from interviews with the following prominent Canadian sport administrators: Richard Pound (IOC Executive Committee member, former Chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency, former Secretary of the Canadian Olympic Committee, former Olympic Swimmer); Dr. Roger Jackson (CEO of Podium Canada, former President of the COC, former Olympic rower); Phil Schlote (High Performance Advisor for Own the Podium, formerly High Performance Advisor at Sport Canada); Michael Chambers (President of the COC from 2001 to the present); Derek Covington (Director of Olympic Preparation for the COC); Doug Hamilton (former VP High Performance for Rowing Canada and 'A' Director to the COC); and Bruce Deacon (Manager of Education and Community Relations at the COC, and former Olympic marathoner). Interviews were also conducted with current athletes Nicole Stevenson (marathoner who just missed qualifying for the Athens Games); Iain Brambell (Olympic rower, and Chair of the COC Athletes Council); and Simon Whitfield (Olympic Triathlete).

To begin, it is necessary to clarify and summarize how athletes are chosen to represent their country on the biggest sporting stage in the world: the Olympic Games.

The Process of Athlete Selection for Olympic Competition

The Olympic Charter explains the roles of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Sport Federations (ISFs) (3) and the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in terms of athlete selection for the Olympic Games. …